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WWI Photography Catalog

The Fine Print

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Robert Benchley in 1934 wrote "In almost every [big-event] picture you can discover one guy in a derby hat who is looking in exactly the opposite direction..." It's fascinating how other things are always going on, even when the camera is inclined to focus on a single center of significance.

Jeff Donlan

It seems that we should glean something from this, something about our consciousness and attention. It's certainly the case that many photographers have found a photo made exceptional by something they didn't notice at the time. But what to say? On the one hand, it all seems obvious -- of course we can't see and know everything. We can only "know" what we put our attention on. But in a way, the society of people is one great state of "continuous partial attention," a phrase usually applied to one mind. If you walk a crowded street and consider how everyone is continually passing out of the attention of each other, how virtually no one knows how they look from behind, you can get a feeling for how the present moment rests in a flow of change. Thank goodness we have plenty of unconscious reflexes or we'd be like ineffectual robots tottering about trying to decide what to do next. I'll keep thinking about this ... it keeps passing before me, but I can't quite grasp it.

John F. Ptak

I have no doubt that in the history of all forms of art that it is the photographer who winds up saying "holy ____ _____" when seeing their finished work than any other artist. How many times have we heard the Joe Rosenthal-like story of snapping a picture and then finding out later that the thing they framed in that second was monumental. (Mr. R. knew he had recorded a piece of history [x-times]when he made the pictures of those Marines, but he hadn't a clue as to how the thing was going to turn out.) // It is a good thing that we can only be conscious of a certain amount of stimuli from or environment--otherwise we could be a rusted robot if we didn't have the tools. As I glance over the keyboard why don't I know how many cookie crumbs there are on my desk/how many playing cards are splayed under the monitor, exactly how many piece of paper in the paper pile, ho many fibres in the piece of yellow fabric, how much dust, how many germs, what extent infra-red, how much radiation, and etc. // Its a good thing that we don't know what we look like from the back--surely though there must be a condition for people who only recognize other people and so on from their back side. Not being able to grasp the thing time and again is the perfect place for faulty memory. Or failing insight. Or failing sight.

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